Making Them Feel
As a writer, I’m almost glad that my memory is so scatter-shot.
by Estelle Rosen
Sam Mullins is a Vancouver-turned-Toronto-based writer/humorist. He is a writer for the CBC sketch comedy radio program The Irrelevant Show. As a storyteller, he is a regular contributor to the CBC storytelling program Definitely Not the Opera, has contributed to NPR's The Moth Radio Hour and has been featured on the New York-based comedy podcast RISK!. Sam is also the reigning Vancouver Story Slam Champion. His one-man show Tinfoil Dinosaur won "Best of Fest" at the Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal Fringe Festivals, and was nominated for the 2012 Just for Laughs Award for Best Comedy. And his new solo-show Weaksauce just picked up the Award for Best Script at the Montreal Fringe and was nominated for the 2013 Just for Laughs Award for Best Comedy.
Writers often draw on their own experiences in telling a story. Weaksauce being a coming-of-age story, was this the case?
“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
― Maya Angelou
― Maya Angelou
There’s some truth to this old chestnut. Well. Truth is a strong word, actually.
Being a storyteller, I am pretty much exclusively working off of my own personal experience. But that said, I’m always questioning the validity of how reliable my memory really is. When I’m piecing together my memories, it would be a lot easier if there were some database of everything I’ve ever done or said so that my work could stand up to journalistic standards. But I’m no journalist.
Working primarily in memoir, I’m always struggling to remember the specifics. Settings, characters, feelings, smells. But I’ve watched enough true-crime documentaries to know the limitations of human memory. Eye-witness testimony is about as wishy-washy as it gets. (cont'd)
I just remember the adrenaline, the nausea, and the excitement of falling in love for the first time.
So how true are my stories? I think David Sedaris put it best:
“I’m working on some stories for a new non-fiction book. When asked if they’re true, I prefer to answer, ‘They’re true enough.’”
My stories really are “true enough”. They’re true to me. I don’t think I’m a skilled enough actor to pull the audience’s leg in a believable way. I’m one of those people that even strangers can see right through. Even if my shows might not stand up to the scrutiny of fact-checkers, the feelings I explore in them are the only truth I know.
My new solo show Weaksauce is about the summer I became a man – or became whatever it is that I became. It was a summer of firsts. First job. First time away from home. First love. First love triangle. First love-making. First fight with a monkey – a literal monkey. Y’know. Regular coming-of-age type stuff.
The events of the story happened over a decade ago, though. So when I sat down to start writing my memories, I realized that all I had to go off of were just the vague residue of faded feelings. I mean, I don’t remember the conversations I had with my first love. I don’t remember how I dressed. I don’t even remember what my first cellphone number was.
I just remember the adrenaline, the nausea, and the excitement of falling in love for the first time. I remember the depression of having my heart broken when someone else won her affection. I remember the freedom of being away from home by myself for the first time. I remember how it felt when the wheels of the plane left the runway in Toronto to take me back home, and how I knew that things would never be the same.
As a writer, I’m almost glad that my memory is so scatter-shot. It gives me the wiggle-room to get at larger truths. I’m obviously not going to be able to recall conversations from ten years ago verbatim. Instead, I’ll create the conversations that make me feel the way that I felt. I’ll fabricate the conversations so that when I’m before an audience, I can tell them the truth.
It’s the best I can do.
What, am I supposed to surgically perform for you exactly what happened? I’m supposed to remember everything perfectly?
There isn’t enough gingko biloba in the world…